We have cheese on our mind, so we started to think about the South’s beloved spread, pimento cheese. The popular cheese, which usually consists of cream cheese, (sometimes mayonnaise), cheese, and pimentos (cherry peppers), is typically served on bread, crackers, vegetables, and sandwiches. Pimento cheese can be found on many menus across the Lowcountry, but what is the history behind it + why is it so popular in the South?
Though there are some debates, research traces the popular cheese’s origins to 1870s New York State, which is also the birthplace of cream cheese. During this time in the 1800s, Spain started importing sweet red peppers (also known as pimentos) to America. The original Spanish name is actually “pimiento”, but eventually print sources dropped the “i” and the spelling became “pimento”.
Soon, the two ingredients of pimentos + cream cheese were joined together in matrimony and the cheese world was forever changed with the birth of pimento cheese. Cheese manufacturers started to blend the ingredients and commercially-made pimento cheese was officially placed on the market. Eventually, once World War II was over, pimento cheese brands that were once sold in grocery stores stopped becoming available due to a loss in public interest. People in the South began to make their own recipes from scratch and incorporated the spread into their meals.
Some southerners started using “hoop cheese” (a firm, dry + white cheese) instead of cream cheese and mixed it with pimentos, which led to the creation of southern homemade pimento cheese.
The world might not ever truly know who was the first to really “cut the cheese,” but one thing is certain, pimento cheese is a southern staple that’s here to stay.
Here’s a recipe to some good ‘ol pimento cheese. If you have a taste for some unique pimento cheese-inspired dishes, check out the list below of local restaurants serving up some serious cheese. 🧀
Five restaurants serving pimento cheese-inspired dishes: